design:retail - July 2016 - (Page 34)
shopping with paco
CEO & FOUNDER
IRPORTS ORIGINALLY WERE
conceived as a variation on
the passenger liner terminal.
They were glamorous. The old
TWA terminal at JFK, if anyone
remembers, won many architectural awards,
as did Dulles in Washington, D.C. But, as the
cost of air travel declined in the 1990s, and a
broad cross-section of the world was introduced to the airport, the terminal-once a
dramatic, not unpleasant place-was reduced
to bus-station levels of madness.
In 2016, there is no question that commercial air travel in the United States is
broken. The new Asian airports in Shanghai
and Seoul make Newark, JFK and O'Hare
look like dirty, third-world junk heaps. Add
other American transportation hubs like
train and bus stations, with a few exceptions (San Francisco's BART is the only one
that comes to mind), and our travel experience
Thanks to 9/11, our airports resemble Cold
War Berlin, with a wall dividing plane-side from
land-side, complete with Checkpoint Charlies and
unsmiling TSA Stasi-like agents. Given the arbitrary nature of the process, we never know
how long it is going to take. In major tourist
destinations, we are subjected to the inexperienced
traveler who pushes our patience to the limit. Add
capricious weather to the mix and you have a poisonous cocktail. All of us road warriors have our
stories. With so many of us trapped inside airports
with hours to kill, is it any surprise that someone
thought retail was the answer?
Airport operators are caught in a dilemma. Is the
airport retail for the entertainment and pleasure of
the traveler, or is it another source of income for
the quasi-public entities that run those facilities?
Ever resent paying $3.50 for that small bottle of
purified water that might cost less than half that
much in the convenience store on the highway? At
Heathrow and Gatwick in London, there are signs
that promote airport retailing with "High Street"
pricing; thus trying to combat the clear perception that in shopping at the airport you are paying
a premium. I did note that a bottle of my favorite
single-malt Scotch was cheaper at my liquor store
of preference on the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel than it was at the Duty Free at Heathrow.
Retail in airports has some built-in problems.
First, the basic body bubble is stretched with
rolling luggage and backpacks. Store operators
know they can only fit two-thirds of the number of people comfortably compared with the
same size stores at the local shopping mall. Most
shoppers are carrying or pulling something
that makes the interaction with merchandise
clumsier and the transaction process slower. In
general, most airports suffer when retrofitted
with retail, because the basic design of terminals constructed throughout the 20th century
was about managing airplanes relative
to square footage and construction costs,
rather than the functionality of retail.
You see the difference in the 21st-century
airports like Terminal 5 at Heathrow, or
better yet in Dubai, where retail was a central function in their planning.
At the airport, you can only sell what
people can carry; that is why watches and
jewelry stores work. I've wondered when
someone is going to figure out that the airport
might be the perfect place to reinvent that old
20th-century entity: the catalog showroom.
Look, see and touch, and get it delivered at
home. In Brazil, just such an entity is being
planned for the new terminal in Brasilia, the
capital city. Brazil is one the places where airport retail is being privatized and reinvented.
It isn't just about airports. Retail today is
about going where customers are, not just
about waiting for them to come to you. In the Tokyo
Metro system, you can buy flowers, fashion, fancy
cakes and confections. Metro retail is designed for
speed. Better yet, you can use your Metro Card to
swipe and pay for small purchases on the run. The
retail rents are a subsidy for transit costs. It made
me think about my New York subway system,
where riders are screaming about fare increases,
but underground retail purchases are limited to
candy, magazines and soft-core porn.
Transportation and retail are natural partners.
We need to better examine how our airports, train
and bus stations are failing. We need to understand
the changing nature of travel, re-examine this
journey and fix its many headaches. Retail is part
of the answer.
PACO UNDERHILL IS THE FOUNDER OF ENVIROSELL AND AUTHOR OF
THE BOOKS "WHY WE BUY" AND "WHAT WOMEN WANT." HE SHARES
HIS RETAIL AND CONSUMER INSIGHTS WITH DESIGN:RETAIL IN THIS
Photo by FBERTI/ISTOCK/THINKSTOCK
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of design:retail - July 2016
design:retail - July 2016
We Love This!
Clicks & Mortar
How'd They Do That?
Have You Heard?
Shopping with Paco
Kum & Go
design:retail - July 2016